2021 Brown Award Winner: Brittney Keys

When the hours get long and she feels weary, Brittney Keys focuses on her commitment to serve others and keeps pushing forward.

“Knowing the end goal is to use my education to help other people and make a difference in other’s lives has been the most influential thing for me,” said Keys. “I just keep thinking about where I’m going. Having jobs in health care helps me see that every day. I get a little of that experience and know that I’m getting closer and closer to making an even bigger impact.”

Keys is the recipient of the 2021 Jill Lestage Brown Service Leadership Award, which is presented annually to an Arkansas Tech University senior who seeks to improve society through unselfish voluntary service to others as demonstrated by past and current leadership roles, service hours completed and participation in volunteer programs.

She will be recognized as the award recipient during ATU spring commencement on Saturday, May 8.

A native of Dardanelle, Keys has accumulated more than 1,000 community service hours with organizations such as St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, River Valley Christian Clinic, the Wesley Foundation Age-to-Age mentoring program and First United Methodist Church.

Her on-campus service and leadership has included work with Student Government Association, Presidential Leadership Cabinet, Student Philanthropy Council, Women in STEM, the Pre-Med Club and Tri Beta biological sciences honor society.

“Receiving this award is one of the biggest honors I’ve ever had,” said Keys. “You don’t expect to be rewarded when you’re being a leader and serving others. To me, it’s a tribute to all the people who have contributed to my life. My friends, my family, my educators…specifically my parents (Charla and James Keys). They have made a huge difference. They’re able to see the impact they’ve made and the impact I’m able to make because they influenced my life in such a strong way.”

Keys also points to Kristy Davis, associate dean for student wellness at ATU, and Brandye Bisek, former director of health services at ATU, as two of her most important mentors. They were among the network of ATU Health and Wellness Center staff members who supported Keys in her role as a peer health educator at Arkansas Tech.

“Everyone at the (ATU Health and Wellness Center) has been a family to me,” said Keys. “It gave me confidence to get out and be a better leader. Having the opportunity to speak to students about bettering their health led me to feel increasingly more comfortable. It is easy to say this was a life-changing role for me.”

As a result, Keys broke free from shyness that held her back before.

“I think a leader sets the precedent for what they expect from others,” said Keys. “If they want others to get down and do the dirty work, they’re going to do it themselves. I’m still that shy little girl on the inside, but I have to be more outgoing in order to create other leaders.”

Keys’ newfound confidence was also manifested in her academic pursuits. The final days of her last semester at Arkansas Tech included a breakthrough on an undergraduate research project that she and fellow ATU students Weston James and Amber Parnell had worked on for three years. They discovered that one of the compounds they have been studying has the potential to be a new antibiotic.

“It’s incredible,” said Keys. “We spent so much time finding little errors, and we had times when we felt so down on ourselves because we didn’t feel like we were going to be able to make it happen. Having that happen so close to the end of senior year was a huge accomplishment and so rewarding.”

Keys is graduating from Arkansas Tech with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with the biomedical option. Her future plans include working as a phlebotomist at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center while pursuing a master’s degree in health care administration.

Her aspirations also include attending the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to complete a dual degree program leading to a master’s degree in public health and a doctorate in allopathic medicine.

Keys hopes to serve as a physician and open a pro bono clinic in a rural Arkansas community.

“I’m more passionate about the things I came in (to Arkansas Tech) caring about but not fully committed to,” said Keys. “I am a changed person. I can tell that I am a more confident individual and that I am going to be able to make a difference.”